As rumored for a while the Huntsman family has bought the Salt Lake Tribune. Both the Tribune as well as the Deseret News have been struggling for quite a while. The drying up of classified ads has hurt newspapers across the country the last 15 years. For a relatively small market like Utah to have two major papers really has been difficult economically. However unification has always been controversial due to the relationship of both papers to the whole Mormon question.
Historically the Salt Lake Tribune arose to be a critical voice against Mormons. It was part of the Godbeite movement in the late 19th century. Godbe wanted religious and political reform in Utah. The fact that the other main paper, the Deseret News, was controlled by the LDS Church allowed for both perspectives to be voiced.
While in many ways both papers have been quite conservative, especially compared to typical urban papers, they also have had slightly different stances. Even in recent decades when the origins of the paper are largely forgotten, the Salt Lake Tribue tends to be able to voice perspectives one might not hear in the Deseret News.
I do question whether this will remain viable in the long term. The economics of newspapers are not great. My sense is that the issue isn’t just traditional revenue streams difficult in the internet age. Rather I think a lot of amalgamation of media across the country is necessary. I’m unsure how such amalgamation and economic savings can happen without losing local investigative journalism and reporting. However I think anyone looking at the number of news sites realize it’s an oversupplied market which makes it hard for anyone to be profitable. This in turn incentivizes media outlets towards misleading and sensationalist journalism.
It’s possible that the Huntsman purchase is part of a larger trend of extremely rich individuals running newspapers for more philanthropic reasons. Famously Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post a few years ago – although it’s not clear how profitable he does want the paper. With the Huntsman purchase it’s not at all clear how much money they are willing to loose nor what changes they’ll make at the paper.
Note for those not familiar with the history of the Godbeites and how it relates to the creation of the Salt Lake Tribune the book Wayward Saints is well worth reading.